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Life at an Internet Startup by Keith Forsythe

Don’t Mix Brainstorming and Estimating Effort in the same Design Meeting

Recently, Derrek Long, my system architect, asked me to read a few pages from the book I.M. Wright’s Hard Code by Eric Brechner.  He had observed issues our company was having with mixing brainstorming and scope cutting in the same meeting.  Brechner describes over a few page in Chapter 5 how to avoid getting FOCKED, or “Failing to Orchestrate Collective Knowledge Effictively for Design”.   Essentially, Brechnar preaches to have very specific goals for a meeting, and to avoid at all costs mixing goals, especially when the goals are completely opposite to each other. 

After reading Brechner, and thinking about it for the last few weeks, I’ve expanded this idea out a bit further as to why mixing brainstorming and estimating effort during initial design meetings between the business stakeholders and development is a bad idea.

  1. Discussing effort for each idea discourages creativity when brainstorming.  People will be less likely to offer “out of the box” or “half baked ideas” that need to be flushed out if they are afraid they will be scolded for coming up with something “too hard”. 
  2. Dev often will give a big estimate when they don’t like an idea.  So waiting to estimate the idea at a later time demonstrates that dev still put in the due dillagence to consider the idea and the estimate isn’t just based on dev not immediately liking it.
  3. Initial estimates given 10 seconds after hearing an idea in a brainstorming meeting will be less accurate.  Dev needs time to absorb the idea, think it through, and then offer an estimate of effort.  Even spending 5 or 10 minutes considering an idea results in the developer spending 100 times more time considering the idea and will result in a more accurate and reliable estimate. 
  4. Other ideas presented later in the meeting might add further clarity to earlier ideas or might prevent the idea from needing estimation altogether. 

I would love to hear from other people their experience with keeping brainstorming and estimating separate.  If you have techniques you employ to do this, let us know!

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May 1, 2009 - Posted by | Development Management, Project Management

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